Op-ed, blogs and columns
By Joe Kelly
When the housing industry collapsed in 2008, the adverse effects were felt in Pickens by spring 2009. Gone were waves of construction workers. Trucks no longer delivered building materials. Out of town home buyers vanished. Empty chairs greeted worried restaurant owners.
Concrete plants, building supply houses and other local businesses saw precipitous declines in store traffic and sales. Banking was paralyzed. Two local banks have since closed their doors. Before 2009 ended property values plunged 30 percent and haven’t recovered. Layoffs engulfed the private sector. The downturn was steep, abrupt and widespread.
In the intervening five years it’s gotten worse. One-third of the buildings in Jasper’s downtown district are vacant. Newer commercial developments along 515 and elsewhere in the county are similarly distressed. Businesses familiar to the community for years have evaporated. Many of those that remain have downsized. Some are barely holding on.
New startups seem to close before the paint dries on the signage announcing their arrival. Many private sector workers have seen incomes disappear. Careers have ended. Part time work at 20 percent of previous take home is the new normal.
Personal and business credit has been destroyed. Foreclosures have been pouring through the Pickens Progress unabated for five years.
Whether starter homes, tiny subdivisions or some of our wealthiest land owners, no segment has been spared. Fortunes have been ruined, lives and marriages torn apart under the strain, families displaced. Everyone knows of a foreclosed property in their neighborhood. Land is offered at 1980s pricing. No one is buying. This isn’t a recession. It’s a depression. No one in the private sector has escaped unaffected.
Government, however, hasn’t participated. Since the 1960s government has raised two generations of its own members to feel that their careers are entitlements. Private sector pay levels can decline (median private sector income is down $2000 nationally since 2010) and its jobs can evaporate but government positions and pay levels are unassailable.
Tax producers (private sector) can suffer but tax consumers (government) cannot. That view is going to change. There is nothing sacred about government.
Elected officials need to come to these meetings prepared to cut spending systemwide by 20 percent. Government will participate in this downturn. Any successful business owner who has survived at least one economic down cycle can reduce government expenditures by 20 percent without breaking a sweat. There’s at least that much inefficiency in government.
Nowhere is governmental arrogance more tangibly evident than in our property tax system. Despite all the hardships enumerated in this piece, assessed values in the county remain at 2008 levels, and net millage rates have increased three times since that year. This can’t pass a reality check. To paraphrase Disraeli, “there are lies, damned lies and government statistics.”
The result has been that government quietly pocketed an unconscionable 30 percent property tax increase in each of the past five years. That is property theft. Nothing in government’s judgement supported lowering assessments during this timeframe. In the real world we know that this isn’t true.
Anyone who has refinanced since 2008 has written proof of the sharp decline in values. It’s as if government is posing the question raised by the late sage, Groucho Marx. “Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” Officials need to prepare plans to reduce property taxes by 30 percent for the next five years in order to return monies wrongly confiscated under false pretenses.
Absent resistance, government will always put its own best interests ahead of the taxpayers’. The past five years are proof of that. Taxpayers need to attend these sessions if we are to make government live within our means. We will have less government and we will have less cost of government but only if we make our voices and concerns known at these budget meetings. We own government. Department by department, we need to decide how much of our government we want to employ.
[Following a corporate career, Joe Kelly started his own company, designing and building homes for more than 20 years. A six term past president of the Pickens County Builders Association he has lived in Pickens County, which he considers the center of the universe, for 12 years. He is now enjoying retirement.]
The local Habitat for Humanity affiliate got the go-ahead from the planning commission Monday night to develop an area on Lance Road for seven homes with an option to purchase another 10 acres for future houses at the same site.
Habitat for Humanity Pickens County was seeking a rezoning from agricultural to suburban residential on the entire 18-acre parcel to allow the cluster of homes.
(ATLANTA)—Georgia State Troopers are preparing for patrols during the peak travel times this coming holiday weekend. The 78-hour Memorial Day holiday travel period begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and ends at midnight on Memorial Day. Colonel Mark W. McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said troopers will be conducting road checks, high visibility patrols, and concentrated patrols across the state during the holiday period watching for impaired drivers, seat belt use violators, and other traffic violations that could potentially cause a traffic crash.
Colonel McDonough said troopers will not only be patrolling the interstates but the secondary roads as well. During the 2012 Memorial Day weekend, the Georgia State Patrol investigated 326 traffic crashes that resulted in 278 injuries, and 6 traffic fatalities. Statewide last year, law enforcement officers reported 16 traffic deaths during the holiday period. “We want to make holiday travel as safe as possible," he added. In addition to the traffic crash investigations last year, troopers arrested 301 people for driving under the influence while issuing 6,621 citations and 9,321 warnings.
Troopers report that speed, a lack of occupant protection use, and impaired drivers are the leading contributing factors in a majority of the fatal traffic crashes that they investigate. While traveling this weekend, motorists should be alert, patient, and courteous to one another to help prevent crashes. Traffic will be heavier than normal due to traffic from graduation ceremonies, festivals, and vacation travelers adding to the normal weekend traffic flow. Colonel McDonough reminds all drivers to make sure that everyone in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt, to obey the posted speed limit, and to use a designated driver if the consumption of alcoholic beverages will be in your plans. “Drunk driving is dangerous and not worth the risk of killing yourself or someone else. Remember the purpose and celebrate during the holiday period responsibly. Always keep safety at the forefront of everything you will do,” he said.
The highest number of traffic deaths on Georgia roads during the Memorial Day holiday weekend occurred in 2005 when 32 people were killed in holiday crashes. The lowest number was recorded in 1979 when 10 people were killed. The Georgia Department of Transportation Crash Reporting Unit began keeping statistics on Memorial Day travel in 1969.
Don’t miss Jason Clark with Southeastern Snake Encounter at the Pickens County Library at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 15.
Live Snakes @ Southeastern Snake Encounter
This is one event that you won’t want to miss! Snakes of all kinds are coming to the library this Saturday, June 15, at 10 a.m. Southeastern Reptile Rescue will teach us about different snakes and reptiles in this fun and educational program. Live snakes will be present. Children of all ages are invited to attend; 9 and under must be accompanied by an adult. This program is sponsored by the Jasper Lions Club.
Members of City of Jasper government, Global Restoration, GAF Materials and ABC Supply just prior to the Jasper Police Headquarter’s roof being torn off and upgraded.
The City of Jasper Police headquarters on Dixie Street has just received a facelift, and thanks to two roofing supply companies and the organizational efforts of Global Restoration, the city’s new roof is “out of the 19th Century and into the 21st Century.”